In an age of constant digital fanaticism, it’s natural to assume that social networking relationships are the most important connections for your business. After all, how many authoritative headlines have touted the value of investing time and resources into your social strategy?
Although there’s a place for social networking in the business world, it’s not at the head of the table. In reality, new research indicates that business network relationships are more valuable to your company’s sales efforts than any relationship you’ve created through your social networks or marketing efforts.
Business Relationships Last Longer and Predict the Future
In 2011, Leskovec and Backstrom analyzed data from Facebook to measure the likelihood that two people are friends, given how many friends they have in common. As you might expect, the study revealed that the number of mutual friends you have with someone directly correlates with the chance you’ll become friends in the future.
Business networks mirror this relationship in a more deliberate and enduring way. Where Facebook allows you to connect with someone with the click of a button, businesses that form new relationships often face a three-month sales cycle, due diligence, and legal contract negotiations. The result is a business relationship that’s much more intentional and predictable than a social network.
The strength and variety of your business relationships also predict the partnerships in your future. Using machine-learning models, the Stanford University InfoLab conducted extensive research on social network theories. This research systematized how social networks can predict your next friend, study the spread of information over these networks, and anticipate the impact of that information on your personal preferences and behaviors with a high degree of accuracy.
Adapting this experiment to the interplay of business relationships, Spiderbook measured the probability that two companies will develop a deal together given the number of companies they both do business with.
The results were astonishing. The study determined that if two companies share five mutual connections, they’re more than 20 times more likely to connect than two people on Facebook with five mutual friends. In short, company networks are much more predictable (and durable) than social ones.
Prioritize Business Relationships for Growth
Applying these principles to your business plan isn’t as complicated as you might think. It’s simply a matter of putting your business relationships at the forefront of your sales strategy and growing your existing network.
Here are four ways you can reposition your sales team to make the most of these business network relationships.
- Understand the role of networks in the sales process.
Your customers likely don’t spend all their time interacting with your website or blog, attending meetings with you, or talking with you on the phone. They spend 50 times more time with other players — including colleagues, partners, customers, and suppliers — who influence their decision to purchase your product or service.
Your sales team needs to acknowledge that networks of all kinds play an increasingly important role in the business world. Tapping into these networks during the sales process can lend insight into product purchase decisions and inform your sales strategies.
- Research existing relationships.
Differentiating your product offering from that of your competitors is a crucial step in closing a sale. In the past, that meant spending an incredible number of hours reading information from official and unofficial sources such as SEC filings, press releases, job postings, tweets, and company blogs.
Now data mining and natural language processing techniques have taken the stress out of this extensive research. They scan the web for relevant, public data and turn it into actionable information about consumer product decisions, which positions your sales team to more narrowly target potential customers.
- Be strategic, not social.
Social networks capture data directly from their end users. Unfortunately, business networks don’t have that luxury, and the information collection process can often lead to highly fragmented data. To avoid an organizational oversight, sales representatives need to analyze these business network insights to make sure every referral or introduction is as influential as possible.
- Take advantage of available tools.
Don’t reinvent data capture when you have free or low-cost alternatives. Introduce your sales team to competitive intelligence products such as TrackMaven, which allows you to track your competitors and your customers’ competitors. Traditional social media platforms such as Twitter and LinkedIn are also great resources for analyzing your prospects and requesting introductions to their partners and customers.
Don’t let the trendy, social side of networking distract you from the relationships that really matter to your bottom line. Put your time and energy into growing a business relationship network, and you’ll position your company for longevity in the market.
Image credit: CC by Jodi Womack